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Vol. LXIV, No. 39
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
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Home-Made Salsa and Other Culinary Experiences Engage Littlebrook Community at Tasting Event

Ellen Gilbert

It made perfect sense that Ravioli the giraffe, Littlebrook Elementary School’s mascot, was wearing an apron and chef’s toque last Wednesday. In addition to their regular lunches, students (and lucky adults) were being treated that day to a “tasting” of fresh tomatoes and salsa.

“It’s happening,” said Sustainable Princeton part-time coordinator Diane Landis as noon-time rolled around and over 75 percent of the school’s 300 students had had an opportunity to try plain tomatoes, tomatoes with lime, salted tomatoes, and salsa. “It’s all about making distinctions,” observed Ms. Landis, who also coordinates The Princeton School Gardens Cooperative.

“Salsa has green stuff in it, and doesn’t look like something kids would want to taste,” she added. Tasting the plain tomatoes first and meeting “Chef Gary,” the creator of the salsa, helped to soften the yuck factor.

“My little assistant chefs are being introduced to fresh local tomatoes, and they get to see the difference between acidic and alkaline,” said Lawrenceville-based Sustainable Fare Food Service Co. Chef Gary Giberson, happily surveying the humming lunchroom. “They also see the link between tomatoes and salsa; it doesn’t just come in jars from the grocery.”

The tasting event was the first of two during the 2010-2011 school year, the result of a $30,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative. For each tasting, which is attended by students, parents, and teachers, local chefs create recipes using only locally grown produce.

The tomato-based experience was to be repeated at Community Park Elementary School on Wednesday, September 29. Next on the tasting menu, according to Ms. Landis, is a cold soup. These are just “model schools,” she noted, saying that after some “fine-tuning,” programs like this could “go across the country.”

Chartwell’s, the District’s food service, was also getting in on the act by tracking foods that kids threw away. “They’re creating a record and trying to understand things like ‘why was the carrot thrown away,’” said Ms. Landis. The emphasis on eating healthy foods is getting a lot of district-wide attention, she noted, and will probably be an agenda item at the School Board’s October meeting.

“I liked it better with lime,” said Kindergartener McKenzie Conner of the tomato alternatives. “The salsa was the best part,” she added.

Sara Carson’s mother, Jen, who was volunteering that day, needlessly worried whether or not the Kindergartener would like any of it.

“It’s actually exceptional,” said Superintendent Judy Wilson digging into a sample of salsa.

For more information — as well as Chef Gary’s recipe for Salsa picante — see

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